Music festivals today cannot hope to match the intimacy, authenticity and legend of Woodstock Festival, 1969. Some beautiful, timeless stories from the festival are testament to the same.
It was the era of the psychedelic awakening. Late 60’s in America was all set to descend into a decade that would be more conscious of human rationalism and profundity, and less set in old, bigoted ways. For many reasons, the hippie generation of those years set the precursor for inclusivity and compassion, that many of us are turning to today. The consequence of those crop of creatively mindful individuals was the Woodstock Festival of 1969; an event that bemoaned the spirit of psychedelia while playing host to some of the most legendary acts that music history has ever known.
With The Who, Jimi Hendrix, Santana, Pt. Ravi Shankar and persistent rumours of Bob Dylan’s surprise act, the music at Woodstock ‘69 was nothing short of being iconic. This coupled with the kaleidoscopic expansion of the time, with drugs like marijuana and LSD being clear favourites, the festival was as eventful as one would expect it to me.
Sure, being one of the first music festivals did take a toll on the festival’s supply of food and water, with the venue turning into an absolute wasteland towards the end of it, but people who’ve been to Woodstock only have some exceptionally wonderful stories to share. Today, we look back at all those testimonials that unequivocally tell us about the beauty of Woodstock.
1. Such was Woodstock’s fame, not just courtesy the artists slated to perform, but also its timing, that over 500,000 people, that is almost half a million people who had turned up to witness the spectacle.
In comparison, The Bonnaroo festival today brings in about 100,000 people. In 1969, this was an overwhelming figure.
Says Glenn Weiser in Celtic Guitar Music of the event
“As we sat enjoying the music and taking drags off of the joints and swigs from the wine bottles that kept coming around, the crowd continued to swell. More and more longhairs kept arriving-I couldn’t believe how widespread the whole hippy thing had gotten as evidenced by the size and appearance of the crowd. There were guys in tie-dyed shirts and bellbottom trousers, girls in jeans or granny dresses with long hair parted down the middle, and they all looked under 30.
The afternoon wore on, and it became obvious that something completely unexpected had happened. Although the exact size of the crowd was unknown, it was reckoned to be at least in the six figures by the people on the stage as opposed to the tens of thousands that were supposed to have shown up. Later we learned it had been around half a million-the third largest city in New York State had sprung up like a mushroom.
This was the first revelation of Woodstock-the sheer size that the counterculture had grown to. Every town had its hippies, but now enormous numbers of us had massed in one area. Friday afternoon brought home to everyone there how broad-based the movement really had become.”
The size wasn’t just an indication of the festival’s popularity but also of the generation that delved in culture and arts and humanity, rather than the disturbing political sentiment of the time.
2. Indeed, the Vietnam War was raging overseas bringing to light the atrocities being committed by the American army. Closer home, the counterculture movement was adamantly opposing the war. In such social strife, people turned to music, even more than before, wanting to be a part of it at all costs.
“Born and raised in the concrete jungle of Manhattan, in 1969 I was 16 and on staff at a scout camp in upstate New York; 25 miles from Max Yasgur’s farm in Bethel, NY. Hearing the early news reports I took my day off and my one-speed, coaster brake Schwinn with 20-inch wheels and a cool banana seat and headed northwest to join the fun.
I almost didn’t make it.
While still several miles away, riding past thousands of parked cars and streams of people walking in the rain, the slender tubular steel bars holding up the back of the seat broke off… dropping the bicycle seat onto the back wheel.
I used my scout knife to fashion an acceptable splint from wood, but needed some string or wire to hold it onto the back frame. I saw a strand of wire in a nearby cow pasture and went to grab it. That’s when I learned, quickly, the concept of an electric fence. My hair, already in a long “fro” brought me even closer to looking like Jimi Hendrix.
Undeterred, I went over the wooden pole, retrieved the wire, fixed the bike and made it to the mud puddle heaven of Woodstock just as Janis Joplin went on! We rocked all night! The atmosphere was both electrifying and “sweet smelling.”
– Leib Lurie, Ohio
3. Fans of Glastonbury might find the mud glamorous, but Woodstock probably set the precedent for the rain and slush! While images today are rife with people making fun of it, back then not everybody had a lot of fun.
“Our sleeping bags and clothes got hopelessly soaked and muddied. Our spot was right next to a sort of aisle—a thick, slippery, brown river of boots and muck. As we lay there, trying to sleep, a constant, never-ending stream of people moved back and forth. All night long, without cease, their feet sloshed and stomped and slammed a few inches from our heads. Some of these passers-by were chemically disoriented. Their panic and confusion made them heedless of their steps. The rain, the mud, the unending shuffling and tramping, the constant fear of having one’s face trodden on—all this made sleep difficult.”
Henry Hertzberg, newsrepublic.com
4. But, despite it all, people only have the most wonderful throwbacks to the festival that favoured humanity over personal comfort.
“And Woodstock was also so much more than the music. It was meeting people, skinny dipping, seeing friends you never expected to see, and watching and feeling “hippiedom” in all its splendor and glory. You ate food from the Hog Farm and saw makeshift shops selling drug paraphernalia and crafts and clothing… things you’d never see back home.
In short it was really cool!
But it was also a big test of your composure and patience. You had to put up with sleeping on the ground and long lines to take a pee and when the rains came… well you got wet and had to deal with the mud.
But somehow it seemed that most people rose above the inconviences. Perhaps we were already higher than them anyway.”
5. And who can forget the iconic Woodstock couple, whose image showing them wrapped in a warm embrace amidst the chaos, with love expressed to free will, who have gone on to become Woodstock 69’s iconic symbol? Well, they’re still together.
Nick and Bobbi Ercoline, both now 60, were the poster children to Woodstock’s memories – memories that spoke of compassion, love and individuality. Their image, taken without their notice, went on to become the cover of the Woodstock album. And as love would have it, they’re still together!
Burk Uzzle, of Magnum agency who shot the snap had this to say of the moment to the Smithsonian Magazine –
“Gracie Slick of Jefferson Airplane was singing, bringing up the dawn,” he remembers. “And just magically this couple stood up and hugged.” They kissed, smiled at each other, and the woman leaned her head on the man’s shoulder. “I just had time to get off a few frames of black and white and a few of color, then the light was over and the mood was over,” Uzzle says of what would become his best-known photograph. His subjects never noticed.
6. The aftermath of Woodstock, even so many years hence, is rampant with the setbacks – how the food and water ran out, how despondency and hunger took over and the excessive nudity and drug usage. But as far as the attendees attest, the event, despite the glitches, was as mellifluous as it could be!
Debunking these myths were Howard Loberfeld in today.com
“The dichotomy between what was really happening and the news reports sent our parents into a tailspin. Every one of them called the camp and said ‘Get my kid out of there! We heard there’s deaths, we heard there’s no bathrooms, we heard there’s no food and we heard there’s drugs!’”
That’s not quite what Loberfeld and his fellow campers had experienced. Rather, he says, he and his buddies “just noticed a lot of music, a lot of fun and a lot of community.” OK, so there were drugs, as Loberfeld found out when some long-haired dude walked by him yelling “Reds! Reds!” But he was so young and naïve, he thought the dealer was talking baseball: “I remember thinking to myself, ‘Gee, I like the Mets. I don’t know why he’s a Cincinnati fan.’”
“I was raised not to trust people and to be wary of strangers,” Loberfeld adds. “And here were 500,000 of them who were being so nice and so happy and just listening to the music and sitting in the mud. It really gave me a different perspective of humanity.” “
7. Would you say the era of free love and hedonism will ever return? Boots Hughston, music promoter, certainly think so, as he said in the Woodstock Story
I see the spirituality living on in the younger generations. I see things like Water Woman and Burning Man moving humanity to a new place and changing its mental state. I see the younger generation as being strong in grounded values from the 1960s.